Franklinton speaks up

Lia Eastep
AJ Vanderelli in Franklinton

“I just couldn't process it for a while,”says artist and gallery owner AJ Vanderelli of the recent presidential election. She was hardly alone, as large numbers of Americans struggled to make sense of Donald Trump's victory. So Vanderelli decided to do what's made her an up-and-coming Columbus artist: She organized a six-venue exhibition that explores the role art and creativity can play in igniting change, empowering individuals and challenging hatred.

Her idea,Silence is Death, will take place throughout Franklinton on March 7. Participating venues and organizations include the Promenade Gallery, 129 Studios, the Idea Foundry, the Artist Wrestling League and Lundberg Industrial Arts, as well as her own eponymous gallery, the Vanderelli Room. The ambitious project is a perfect fit for Vanderelli, who has emerged as one of the leaders of the burgeoning Franklinton arts scene in recent years.

Born in California and raised in Florida, Vanderelli bounced around the country throughout her 20s, eventually making her way to the Columbus College of Art and Design to study art. Here, she found home. “I love Columbus,” she says. “I love the community of it.” She occupied a studio in the Milo Arts building in the mid-2000s, where she met other artists who were beginning to migrate toward Franklinton. In late 2014, she opened the Vanderelli Room in a former church near West Rich Street that now functions as a gallery and performance space.

Each of the six participating galleries will build an exhibit around a different theme. And despite the provocative title of her gallery's portion of the upcoming exhibition (“The Pussy Grabs Back”), Vanderelli is thoughtful and cautious about it being overly political. The guys down the block at 129 Studios, on the other hand, are more than happy to aim straight for Trump. Taking the theme “Locker Talk,” the self-described younger, grungier and more aggressive venue (the kind of place where an abandoned minivan bench serves as a major piece of furniture) hopes to cater to those wishing to directly air their frustrations with the current administration. Likewise, the Artist Wrestling League—a painting contest staged like a wrestling match—will host another politically charged performance. Meanwhile, “Inclusion,” presented by the Promenade Gallery, is billed as the most family-friendly, and “Make America Create Again,” at the Idea Foundry, will be made up predominately of video. Lastly, the elevated location of Lundberg Industrial Arts (the hill with the two-headed horse mural) is perfectly suited for spoken word.

A percentage of the proceeds from the sale of artwork will be divided evenly among four organizations—Gladden House, the American Civil Liberties Union, Planned Parenthood and the Standing Rock Sioux tribe.

In addition to the exhibition of work, guests can contribute their own voices. There will be an organized, roving “public performance” protest, complete with a signage station that Vanderelli insists will not be negative. “While [the result of the election] breaks my heart,” she says, “in a weird way, I'm kind of glad because it will allow us to take action and make these changes that needed to be made, but that maybe we've been blind to.”